NBA season 3 days old, so panic ebbs & flows

That calming breeze you feel outside is the collective sigh of relief coming from the West, originating in Los Angeles.

Unless the wind is blowing from the Northeast, near Boston. Then it’s cold and bitter.

The folks who sit in the front row and wear their sunglasses indoors had a little extra bounce in their step as they strode to the valet stand last night, a measure of normalcy having returned to the Staples Center as the Lakers — the first team to play three games in three nights — defeated Utah  96-71 behind 26 points from Kobe Bryant. (Little-known L.A. valet fact: The patron whose car is lined up first in the exit lane at the Staples Center loading dock, night after night, is Jack Nicholson).

The vibe at the valet stand underneath the arena in Miami was even more mellow, thoughts of a 66-0 season having to pass through the mind of at least one white-clad, deep-pocketed Heat fan after they had their way — their new way, the speedy kind — against the Boston Celtics with a 115-17 victory behind 26 points from LeBron James, 24 from Dwyane Wade and 20 from their  blur of a rookie, Norris Cole.

So the Lakers are still on the wrong side of .500 with a 1-2 record, but at least they are even with the Clippers in the win column. (Mark Heisler will have a column on this site later today on the strange vibe in El Lay).

And after three days of the NBA season, there are still 11 teams with a zero in the win column — two of which are Dallas and Boston.

So that is where we will head to gauge the panic meter, which will be having more ups and downs than a seismograph this season as the 66 games are packed into the 4-month schedule.

From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “The last time the Celtics were in this building — Game 5 the Eastern Conference semifinals — they suffered the worst kind of collapse. The Heat polished them off with the game’s final 16 points, including eight straight from LeBron James to close out the victory. The Green returned last night with Paul Pierce in a suit, Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic as the designated LeBron stoppers, and really, what did everyone think would happen? For the second time in three nights, they somehow managed to make a game out of their egregious sins, in this case 24 turnovers and a defensive effort that was so poor they needed a zone to climb back. But not far enough. … The Celtics’ best results came out of that second-half zone, which forced Miami to miss its last eight shots of the third quarter and pulled the visitors within eight points (91-83) at the start of the fourth. But the Heat started the fourth with a 9-1 run for a 100-85 lead, creating just enough cushion despite the Green run that followed. “We just dug ourselves such a big hole,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We kept getting back into it, but then they would make a shot. Our turnovers just killed us.”

The Celtics get another chance tonight to capture that elusive first W, playing at New Orleans.

But the defending champions from Dallas will have to wait another day for a similar opportunity, and they have a tough task ahead of them as they play on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

From Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Lamar Odom tried to warn them. Now, the Dallas Mavericks are quickly learning for themselves the downside of being the defending NBA champions.Odom, in his first year with the Mavericks after winning a pair of NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, said teams tend to find another gear or two whenever they’re playing the defending champs. And in two games thus far this season, the Mavericks have discovered that the hard way. On opening day Sunday, Miami drilled the Mavericks, leading by 35 before winning, 105-94. One day later, the Denver Nuggets ate up the Mavericks, leading by 33 before cruising to a 115-93 victory.Two games. Two lackluster performances. Two blowout losses. … It might get worse for the Mavericks before it gets better; particularly because teams are expected to constantly hit the Mavericks with their best shot.”These are good teams we’re playing,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Every team we’re playing is going to be a good team in some way and in some part just because we’re the defending champions. “You see this time and time again. The basketball gods, they tip in the way of the teams that come in these situations. Bank 3s, guys that don’t normally hit [shots] are hitting shots. That’s the kind of magical things that happen when teams have the opportunity to play a championship team.” Perhaps, but that’s no excuse for the Mavericks not hustling back on defense and allowing uncontested fast-break dunk after uncontested fast-break dunk. That’s what happened in the first two games, prompting Dirk Nowitzki to say: “We look old and slow and out of shape — a bad combination.”

The Boston-Miami and Utah-Los Angeles games were televised nationally by TNT, but those who were aware that NBA League Pass is free between now and January 7 did themselves a favor if they switched over to watch the fourth quarter of the Minnesota-Milwaukee game as the Timberwolves clawed back from a 20-point deficit and nearly sent the game to overtime when Kevin Love (31 points, 20 rebounds) had a clear look at a game-tying 3 just before the final buzzer but missed.

From Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “If we can play that poorly and still have a chance to win it at the end, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames,” Love said, keeping the faith after he set franchise records for free-throws attempted (24) and made (19). … On Monday, the Wolves took mighty Oklahoma City down to the final three seconds before losing their season opener before a standing-room-only crowd at Target Center. On Tuesday, with (coach Rick) Adelman away from the team to attend a family funeral, the Wolves didn’t really compete with a Bucks team that had lost in Charlotte the night before until the game’s final quarter. The wise guys on Twitter wondered during much of the second half if Kurt Rambis wasn’t subbing as the team’s defensive coordinator on a night when top assistant Terry Porter replaced Adelman on the bench and the Wolves committed the kind of turnovers that drove Adelman to distraction during the preseason. “You can turn the ball over, but not 25 in a game,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “It was more us than them. They defense well, but we hurry up a lot of times and we make a lot of stupid passes. It was hard to control the game with those turnovers.”

There are three teams with 2-0 records: Miami, Oklahoma City and the Portland Trail Blazers, who defeated by Sacramento Kings by 22 points behind 25 points from Gerald Wallace and 24 from LaMarcus Aldridge.

From Jason Quick of the Oregonian: “Mr. Wallace, meet Section 314 of the Rose Garden. These are the Blazers die hards. The rowdies. The ones who start the chants that catch on like wildfire throughout the Garden. And on Tuesday, they rewarded Wallace with the chant that has become a rite of passage for Blazers stars: “GER-ALD WALL-ACE! GER-ALD WALL-ACE!”  They did it for Marcus Camby that one April night in 2010, and two weeks later Camby signed a contract extension to stay in Portland. “It meant a lot to me,” Camby said, remembering his chant. “It definitely helped my decision in staying here.”  After this season, Wallace has the option to sign on for another year with Portland for $11.4 million, or explore what will be a lavish free-agent market, with more than a dozen teams expected to be under the salary cap.
It has become perhaps the biggest topic with Blazers management, so much so that interim general manager Chad Buchanan said the team is very conscious in making sure they do the “little things” to make sure Wallace and his family are kept happy this season. … When he was finally subbed out of the game in the final minute, he was serenaded by Section 314, and the chant eventually engulfed most of the building. Sitting courtside, Wallace’s brother, Courtney, soaked in the cheer. When the grade-school girl next to him joined in on the now-resounding chant, Courtney couldn’t help but smile.
“It’s a great sensation,” Courtney said.

The New Jersey Nets had a chance to join that elite 2-0 club, but they didn’t quite get the job done in their final home opener in New Jersey, losing by a mere 36 points to the Atlanta Hawks. Although the Nets will certainly climb out of the No. 30 spot in the SheridanHoops power rankings, this was a brutal show they put on for their faithful few.

From Fred Kerber of the New York Post: “Kris Humphries, booed from MSG to Washington, was the object of fan affection at the start of the Nets’ final home opener in New Jersey last night. By the end of the night, which contained a thorough 106-70 trouncing by the Hawks, the sellout crowd of 18,711 chanted for a much larger target. “We want Dwight!” cheers alternated with “We want How-ard!” And an optimistic Nets management has been working all along to satisfy that request for Magic center Dwight Howard. The Nets were confident last year about acquiring Carmelo Anthony. That never materialized, but they came out of the campaign with Deron Williams, which may prove to be the drawing card to bring Howard to the Nets — either to New Jersey in a trade later this season or to Brooklyn in the summer as a free agent. League sources continue to maintain Howard would sign long-term with the Nets, either as a trade or free-agent acquisition. The Nets (1-1) will see Howard tomorrow in Orlando, where they hope for better than last night, when rookie MarShon Brooks led them with 17 points. Humphries had 11 points and six rebounds, and Williams scored 10.”

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